Ginger Nuts of Horror
Adult writers turning to YA is a tricky business and many have come a cropper
Book two “Alight” which is the middle section in Scott Sigler’s “Generation Trilogy” has recently been published, so this article features a review of this latest book of Scott’s as well as give a wide over-sweep of the other novels and career of this fantastic horror crossover science fiction writer who has broken the rule book on the phrase ‘over-the-top’. Although the new novel is primarily aimed at the ‘YA’ market it will also be widely read by the author’s sizeable and incredibly loyal following of adult horror fans. These ‘uber-fans’ are known as “junkies” and I am proud to count myself amongst their number. Why? I’ve read every word Sigler has written since 2008 and when he published a new book this is a big event in my calendar. Basically: Scott Sigler publishes a book, I batten down the hatches and power through that bad-boy in no time at all. For anyone who has never read a Sigler novel: they are usually a terrifically exciting and violent fusion of science or speculative fiction, horror with the odd alien thrown in. Did I mention how violent they are? Astonishingly graphic in parts, stomach body horror churning in others, sadism is thrown in with good cheer and these reads are so far over the top they’re half way down the other side. Sigler lives on a planet all of his own and it is a scary place. But it’s good for us mere mortal fans to visit once in a while for a day trip.
This is Sigler’s second series to foray into the world of YA. The first being his Galactic Football League (GFL) sequence, which I adored. There are currently five books in print (“The Rookie” is book 1) of a projected seven books series. They seem to be on a temporary hiatus and who knows when number six will arrive. Initially these novels, an incredible fusion of science fiction, action and sport (NFL/Grid Iron) take one football season in the GFL following a rookie quarter-back called Quentin who plays for a tier two team called the “Krakens” and I’ve loved them all as Quentin Barnes grows, develops and has his own personal adventures. Along the way, as a Scotsman I also learned a lot about American Football as a sport, which was completely new to me. Although they’re pegged as YA I suspect most of the books were bought by Sigler’s adult Junkie fans (like me), initially they were all pricy and limited to 2500 copies in hardback and are incredibly collectable, but were later released in paperback. As I work as a Librarian I have given these books to a lot of kids and I know many who have read the whole series and others, now in their twenties, who now call themselves Junkies. This wonderful series deserved to be a huge hit, but for whatever reason it just doesn’t seem to have sold like it ought to have and it struggled to get a publisher to thrown major weight behind it, which is a real shame. As a whole the series was an amazing mash up of Star Wars and sports and should have been a dream for teenage boys, but seemed to miss the mark sales wise. This is a real shame as for the many teenage boys who read little, these meaty books deliver on so many levels. I know many teenagers who have read all five books, some kids as young as twelve, so they are very accessible. There are also a few accompanying novellas only available on ebook format. Sigler also puts Junkies into his novels, myself “Tony Jones” plays in two GFL finals. You’ve got to love that! (I lost both finals though….) Only another Junkie could appreciate how honoured I was…. I was finishing a book late at night and then I popped up! Thanks Scott!
So Scott had a great record for writing quality YA. So I was really looking forward to the “Generations Trilogy”. “Alive” was published in 2015 and was a very good page turner, I gave it to a number of kids in my library and got pretty good feedback from it. Without giving too much away: a group of teenagers awaken in coffins with no memories. What follows is a science fiction thriller which has lots of decent twists and reveals its secrets pretty slowly. It sits nicely on the shelf with the likes of “The Hunger Games”, “The Maze Runner” and lots of other cross-over dystopian science fiction which are trendy these days. Memories slowly come back, the children realise they have been ‘created’ rather than born to serve a particular purpose which is revealed as the novel develops. It finishes on a cliff-hanger, which I don’t always like, as I feel a novel should have a proper standalone ending. Book two is very closely linked with the predecessor and I think would be quite tricky to follow without having read the predecessor.
But hey, this is Scott Sigler, he can do what he wants. This is a very crowded market and I’m not sure how the book sold outside of Scott’s Junkie hardcore base of fans. I discovered this author in 2008 which was absolutely perfect timing for me as the sequel to “Infected”, “Contagious” was coincidentally published just as I finished book one. You wouldn’t believe how happy I was to find out there was a sequel waiting to be ordered. I can’t remember why I bought “Infected” in the first place, but it had an enormous impact on me and I rate it as one of my favourite ever books. The sequel, “Contagious” ranks for me one of the very the best sequel ever written. Many folks I’ve given the books to agree with me. “Contagious” is a complete and utter stunner which totally explodes the plotlines from book one and is a much bigger and meatier read. They are my favourite alien invasion of Earth novels ever. But it all starts very slowly and the paranoia sets in as particles in the dust grow into little triangles which are under your skin. They talk to you, tell you to trust nobody, kill your friends and your family. But the main character is one of the meanest and toughest motherfuckers of all time and they really are mixing with the wrong guy. Throw the CIA into the mix, lots of speculative science and a sequel which really expands upon the first you have got two incredible books. In 2013 Scott concluded the trilogy with “Pandemic” which was also great and a fitting conclusion to an amazing trilogy. As I’m a librarian I’ve managed to get a very wide range of ages and demographics reading Scott which I’ve always thought was really funny, mainly because his books are just so violent, so I’m not sure he knows he has so many women in their fifties as fans. I’ve given them to teenagers who have then given them to their Dads. They are those kind of books.
But back to book two of the “Generations Trilogy”, I think “Alight” suffers from being the middle book in a trilogy and by Sigler’s high standards it lacks the high octane intensity his novels always deliver. As the teenagers of book one find themselves stranded on an alien planet they bicker amongst themselves about how to survive once their food source becomes contaminated. In the first 200 pages of a fairly lengthy book just not enough happens and it could have had a further edit. Although we slowly find out more about where the teenagers and their creators come from it lacks the level of action and punch you would expect from a Sigler novel. Some of the characters begin to grate, the religious fanatic becomes repetitive and as we enter “The Lord of the Flies” territory of a bunch of kids stranded on their own with no adults begin to fight amongst themselves and their circumstances go downhill fast. It just lacks major ummph and some of the characters were pretty one dimensional and they get pretty tiresome as they seem to go around in circles as they solve the odd clue along the way.
This new planet itself it not particularly interesting either. All we get in the first 200 pages action wise (apart from bickering amongst themselves) is a hoard of giant spiders roaming around in ruins which partially resemble the ancient Mayan civilisation. Come on, this is a Scott Sigler novel, is giant spiders all we’re going to get? If you want to read a book with an incredibly well drawn alien world and believable teenage characters you will be rooting for all the way I’d suggest you try the magnificent “Dark Eden” (and sequel) by Chris Beckett. Too much of this blends in with other popular teen novels; “The Hunger Games”, “The Maze Runner” and the many other novels such as Ally Condie’s “Matched” and Roth’s “Divergent” where teens discover they have hidden talents as happens here as memories return. All this is standard fare in modern teen fiction and “Alight” fails to distinguish itself from the YA pack. As the book heads into its second half you realise their creators who come to be called “The Grown Ups” will soon be returning. But all this will be revealed in book three. As I said I devour Scott Sigler novels, but by his own very high standards this one fell a little flat for me. But then again I’m not a YA reader, so hopefully his intended audience will enjoy it more than I did.
Adult writers turning to YA is a tricky business and many have come a cropper, and those who write in both areas well are few and far between. As an adult reader who has read YA novels for years all I would suggest Sigler does for YA audiences is this: cut down the swearing, cut down the violence, improve the female characters and shorten the books a bit. He does the first three two very well, but not the third and fourth. Like most of his long term and loyal Junkie fans I’m hoping Scott will make a welcome return to what he does best: nasty adult horror fused with cutting edge science fiction (once his “Generations” trilogy is done and dusted).
Meanwhile if you’ve never tried Scott Sigler here are other stand-alone novels of his that I would highly recommend. Much of his stuff although are standalone novels they do all fit together into his ‘Siglerverse’ and there are sly crossovers between books here and there. “Earthcore” from 2001 is hard to beat for sheer imagination and craziness as a mining expedition which goes deep underground stumbles upon something pretty nasty. I think in this novel the author completely nailed the blueprint for a Sigler novel: a fusion between horror and science fiction which was irresistible and horribly addictive. Sadly, it’s out of print and very expensive to buy second hand. You don’t want to know what I paid for my copy. Sigler has been promising a sequel for years and I’m sure I even read an introduction to ‘book two’ at some point, who knows if it will ever happen, but I hope it does. Highly recommended.
From 2007 “Ancestor” is another over-the-top techno thriller that involves scientists messing with genetic codes to create organs to heal illnesses and organ donations. To do this they create a new creature and this genetically created beast, trapped on a remote island, is a truly vicious predator. This is another really fun read and has Sigler hallmarks of violence, gore, mad scientists, military nuts and lots of death. This novel is typical Sigler. Hard-boiled, comic book fast, almost cartoon sketchy type characters and lots and lots of blood. A good comparison here would be Jonathan Maberry, another cool author who writes in the same ballpark.
2012 saw “Nocturnal” arrive. You thought the previous two books were crazy? Forget it. They were ‘Barbie meets Ken’ compared to this baby. This novel has a change of pace and abandons the science, technology and aliens for a fusion of horror, fantasy and even a twang of the supernatural. This was another meaty read of 500+ but really chugged along major swagger. A San Francisco detective has dreams which mirror real murders taking place in the city, meanwhile there seems to be a vigilante superhero (with superpowers too) on the loose bumping off the killers. So who really are the baddies? I’m not going to tell you as the book veers off into crazy directions, the underworld, a few teenagers are thrown into the mix, and lots of other stuff. This was a real fun, totally mad read. But if you fancy something which is highly original, fast paced and a mash-up of several genres this book delivers on every. Totally great. Along the way there are also short story collections, some with recurring characters. A TV network were interesting in optioning this at some point but I’m not sure if it came to anything.
Scott is also really a great guy. He’s got a fantastic presence on social media and really easy to chat to should you fancy it. He also has a BIG heart. Years ago after I read “Infected” and got to chatting to him, I found out about the “GFL” books late and they were already out of print. When Scott found out I was a Librarian he had four (very heavy) books sent over to my school from San Francisco. An incredibly generous gesture. Again, some years later, at least six months before “Alive” was published he kindly sent me a copy for free. And as I said earlier I was proud to appear in his “GFL” in a very minor role! Also, years ago I had problems with buying one of his GFL “Krakens” American football tops and he intervened and sorted it out himself. He’s obviously a busy guy, but really goes the extra mile for his fans.
The arm of Sigler stretches very long…. There is a children’s horror author who I am friends with called Cliff McNish, who has written some tremendous ghost and horror novels for kids. Cliff has visited my school on several occasions and of course we start talking about horror…. And who is his favourite author? You guessed it! Scott Sigler. I even leant Cliff my very expensive copy of “Earthcore” which he of course loved.
How many different people have I given copies of Sigler novels to for birthdays or Christmas over the years? Mmmmm. Good question. A lot. Have I created any new Junkies? Most definitely. One of my nephews who I used to give the pricy collectors editions of the GFL books for Christmas became a Junkie. Although he is now well into his twenties he took up NFL after reading “The Rookie” and the sequels. Sadly he stopped after broke his collar bone. The other year he got very excited when Scott Sigler ‘liked’ one of his pictures on Instagram.
Scott is also famous for being one of the great innovators of podcasting. Now I know very little about this except that Scott gives many of his books away for free on this medium. Personally prefer to read them myself, but I know they are very popular and “Earthcore” was an early example of podcasting really selling a book and creating a brand for Scott. These days Scott is too busy to record his many voices himself, but has very cool substitutes. He also has a very entertaining (mostly) weekly podcast called ‘The Friday Fix’ which includes stuff about his books, interviews with other authors and lots of other stuff from the worlds of horror, technology, film and pop culture.
Scott regularly attends several big comic-cons in America so do keep an eye out for him. Also, there is his yearly gathering for his uber Junkie fans “Sigler Fest” which is an annual convention for all things Sigler which usually takes places in autumn in some exotic place like Las Vegas. One of these years the wife and I will attend.
Every big reader has an author who the fan would go the extra mile for and Scott Sigler is mine. So I salute the crazy mind of this awesome writer who riffs horror and science fiction together like few others do.